Burnt rubber smell, no smoke, no squeal

Hi, Noob here. My car recently has begun to smell of burnt rubber, particularly when I am stopped with the engine running (I assume it also smells when I’m driving, I just can’t smell it because it is in motion). To complicate matters, I had the oil changed about a month ago, but my oil pressure gauge only works intermittently. No engine warning light is on, and it seems to be running smoothly. The smell is strong, but there is no smoke, steam or squealing noise. It has about 120,000 miles. Also, the repair shop is about 35 miles away, almost uphill all the way. I am concerned I might not make it there if it is serious.

Thanks in advance for any help.

Motor oil is leaking onto the hot exhaust and burning. IF enough oil is burned, it can flame, and you have an engine fire; but, yours may only be a very small leak. See your mechanic for evaluation.

I agree with hellokit. If you use synthetic oil, it smells to me more like burning plastic than burning oil when it leaks through the valve cover gasket and gets on the exhaust manifold. Also, though others will disagree, I seem to have more trouble keeping synthetic oil inside the valve covers on my BMWs and Volvo. I have replaced several gaskets and still have problems with that.

The second most likely culprit is an overheating catalytic converter due to engine misfire. The catalytic converter may be cooking the undercoating, carpet padding, or carpet. That is only a problem when you are stopped. When you drive, air moves between the ‘cat’ and the car so you should be OK to drive it to a shop.

Empty Plastic Shopping Bags Can Get Blown Under Cars And Wrap a
Around Engine / Exhaust Parts And take Several Days To Burn Off. They Stink.

I think I recall a Tom & Ray anecdote about a car with a ski jacket melting down on the car’s exhaust system over a period of time.

An engine misfire and an overheating cat would set a code and the check engine light would be on.

Thanks for the quick replies guys. Very helpful. I neglected to point out it’s a 2001 VW Passat. I noticed in my work parking space there are several baseball-sized stains on the ground. They look like oil. That would support hellokit and moanolito, no?

Possibly, if the stains did in fact come from your vehicle. Step 1: Check your oil to see if it is low.

Okay, I checked the oil, and it is actually a little high. I fiddled with the heat too. It seems the smell is much less strong with the heat off. Any clues?

You might have a heater core leaking. My friend tells me mine leaks everytime he gets in my truck. He says it smells like burnt antifreeze. Everybody else that rides in it says they smell something burning like smoke or rubber or plastic.
I never can smell anything. Apparently they don’t have to leak very much to impart the smell into the airflow because I haven’t had to top up the radiator for several months, and I never see any leakage on the underside of the heater box.

Thanks stephaan, is that something that needs immediate attention or can I drive it for a while?

If I saw signs of visible leakage, or the coolant level was dropping (and I could attribute the drop in coolant level to the heater core,and not some other leak like the water pump etc.) then yes I would replace it. But I have been driveing it for several thousand miles like this and my coolant level has never dropped more than one cupfull over a years time and 6,000 miles, and it can lose that much just to evaporation from the resevoir tank. Heater cores usually don’t suffer catastrophic failure, they just seem to seep.
Before you replace it you need to BE SURE this is what it is, AND I AM NOT SURE. I AM JUST GUESSING. Labor is going to be expensive, especially if you have a.c., so I would wait untill you can actually see coolant leaking out from the bottom of the heater box, or where ever the lowest point would be. Your heater box may have a drain to the outside of the car so you might check there too. Put some newspapers under your car at night and check them in the morning. You may find you have a few oil leaks too.
One more thing to consider, your fresh air/ventilation system picks up air from the outside of the car. This smell could be comeing in from the outside (from the engine) and getting recirculated through the f.a.system. Like the others said it could be an oil leak that is burning on the engine, riseing up around the hood gaps and before it can be blown away it gets sucked in the f.a. system. Next time your engine is warmed up to operating temp. pop the hood and stick your head under there and see if you can smell this same smell under there. Keep us posted.